Yes, I ate a bug today, the unappetizing result of trying to address the hidden shift in the Common Core State Standards for English language arts.
The shifts in the CCSS have been a common topic in my department meetings this year. The shifts urge:
- Regular practice with complex texts and their academic language
- Reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from texts, both literary and informational
- Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction
While the second shift emphasizes integrating evidence, it neglects a significant thinking and writing skill that is embedded in ELA-Literacy writing standard 7, starting in ninth grade. As part of conducting research, writing standard 7 demands students to synthesize multiple sources on a subject, a skill that has been neglected in past learning standards. I have found working as a mentor teacher in my district, the under-representation of synthesis as a skill in previous standards has left many teachers unequipped and uncertain how to teach this skill. So, how can one address this hidden shift?
First, what does this shift require of students? The skill of synthesis demands students to read intertextually, finding insightful connections between texts and using those connections to generate new ideas. This is a skill that requires a lot of scaffolding – Students need a way to structure their thinking in a way that actively forges these connections.
A strategy I have found successful for this what I call a “link think.” Engaging in synthesis involves entering into an ongoing, written conversation among academics. It is in the observation of this discussion that students need to see connections among the participating authors. Doing so physically helps forge these connection.
Consider the sample link think above. I gave my students the argumentative topic, “Should We Eat Bugs?” To research this question, I gave them 3 relevant sources and they had to find 3 more on their own. The link think was the product of actively forging connections between to sources to generate new ideas.
A link think starts with listing the titles and key ideas of relevant text around the edges of a piece of paper. I like to use large pieces of butcher paper so student ideas are not limited by limited space. Students then work to draw lines connecting two or more texts, and, on this line, they select a word to describe what one source is doing in the conversation. For example, in the sample link think, the students observed that source 1 correlates to source 4, and labeled the line with that relationship. Building a bank of words to describe the relationship between texts prior to doing link thinks helps give students the vocabulary to do this.
Space in the middle of the link think is the area where they work to generate new ideas based on these connections. For example, in connecting source 4 on EPA emissions data to source 1 on characteristics of bugs as farmed food, students developed the idea that they are an environmentally food. This synthesis led to the the types of sub-claims I want to see in my students’ writing:
“The environmentally friendly nature of raising bugs makes them a preferable food source to other livestock.”
This shift to include synthesis lead students to richer argument. In the past, I found my students simply restating details from sources they gathered. Developing synthesis skills helps them generate new ideas and actually participate in this academic discussion, reaching much higher level thinking. The problem with this strategy is that my students’ engagement with the activity prompted one of them to bring a worm sucker she had obtained during a recent family vacation. She refused to do her link think unless I ate it, so I ate a bug as my students synthesized sources from research.
How might a link think or similar graphic organizer help your students next time they engage in research or argument? Pair it with an exotic topic, like eating bugs, and you are primed for high student engagement.
When outside of the classroom, I enjoy mtn. biking, skiing, running, and grilling good food, but don’t enjoy karaoke or green beans, mainly because I can’t sing and was afraid of the Jolly Green Giant as a kid.